Which school do you want to support?
Students generally play a very small role in defining or governing the school system that educates them. Although preparing students for their future is the whole point, it is generally agreed that adults are to run the show; students are to focus on learning.
Technology and budget pressures are gradually softening the teacher-led model of schooling. In large classes with diverse learning needs, some teachers enlist students as tutors and peer leaders. The availability of self-paced learning materials online may be changing the way that children learn.
Students have little influence on education legislation for a simple reason: policy is written in Sacramento... during school hours.
Students occasionally are asked to serve on school committees or school boards. The California State Board of Education includes a voting student member due to student advocacy in the 1970s and 1980s. A sufficient number of school districts have followed the State Board's example to fill a small specialized track at the California School Board Association's annual conference. Most of these students hold a non-voting "advisory" seat.
California school boards are not required to include a student member, advisory or otherwise.
Aside from these few examples, however, students are mostly spectators in the decisions about their schools. Some question whether it is appropriate for students to play a role in school governance. Even when their role is advisory, students have a spotty record of success in influencing legislation. Aside from inexperience, students face a practical obstacle to participating in education policy: decisions are made in Sacramento... during school hours.
The lack of student participation is a missed opportunity, given that one of the roles of our schools is to prepare young people for their roles as citizens in a democracy. Some nonprofit organizations such as Junior Statesmen of America provide young people with important experiences in this realm.
Meanwhile, many schools have eliminated civic education in part due to funding pressures and increased focus on tested subjects. In 2013, state officials created the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning to examine cost-effective options to engage students in civic learning.
The California State Board of Education includes a voting student member appointed by the Governor.
WestEd collects information about student perceptions and experiences related to school climate and many other aspects of their learning experiences using the California Healthy Kids Survey. The results are available for the state as a whole and by school district and county. They provide insights into how different groups of young people see their school experiences.
Students have a lot to say about their schools. When confident teachers and school leaders take time to ask students for their feedback or advice, they generally find it enlightening. Some schools, with success, are involving students in work that they are uniquely qualified to do: evaluating teachers.
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